Venezuela

Venezuela braces for dueling Saturday protests

President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela salutes at a rally in Caracas, Dec. 3, 2015. Three years ago, Maduro's opponents had little traction among the lower- and lower-middle classes in Caracas, but shortages and other economic problems have changed the mood considerably.
President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela salutes at a rally in Caracas, Dec. 3, 2015. Three years ago, Maduro's opponents had little traction among the lower- and lower-middle classes in Caracas, but shortages and other economic problems have changed the mood considerably. The New York Times

Venezuela’s coalition of opposition parties is calling for nationwide and peaceful protests starting Saturday to demand the ouster of President Nicolás Maduro.

In a press conference Tuesday, the unity coalition, or MUD, said the beleaguered nation needs to pursue all legal routes to try to cut Maduro’s term short of the 2019 presidential election.

In addition to the pressure on the street, MUD Executive Secretary Jesús Torrealba urged congress to pursue a constitutional amendment that would shorten the periods of elected officials. In addition, he asked citizens to begin the task of collecting enough signatures to trigger a recall.

Torrealba said the three-pronged approach was necessary to circumvent the administration’s use of the courts to block changes that the economically beleaguered nation is clamoring for.

National protests in 2014 left more than 40 dead on both sides of the political divide.

Shortly after the announcement, ruling party governors called for their own “anti-imperialist” march for Saturday. That protest, in theory, is aimed at the U.S. decision to renew last year’s executive decree calling Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

In the past, the Maduro administration has been successful in blunting the political impact of opposition marches. National demonstrations in February 2014 left at least 43 dead on both sides of the political divide, and Maduro used that violence as an excuse to jail opposition leaders and undermine opposition efforts.

On Tuesday, Torrealba asked marchers to refrain from provocations.

“We don’t want a single mask, stone or broken bottle,” he said. “We want to see the people on the street — an intense and peaceful march.”

The opposing sides have been on a collision course since January when the opposition took control of congress for the first time in 17 years.

Since then, the Supreme Court — firmly in the hands of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — has undermined congress’ authority by denying the opposition’s crucial two-thirds majority. Last week, the court also blocked an attempt by congress to investigate the lame-duck appointment of 13 magistrates.

Maduro did not immediately acknowledge the calls for protests, but former Vice President and current National Assembly member Diosdado Cabello has said the president has no intention of stepping down.

During the news conference, Torrealba said protesters weren’t afraid of potential violence.

“What people are truly afraid of is that that this situation continues,” he said. “What scares them is that this disaster will continue.”

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